Chemistry student awarded elite research position

Lauren Purser
Lauren Purser

Radford University junior Lauren Purser has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) research position this summer at the University of Michigan.

The NSF annually funds research opportunities for undergraduate students through its Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. At Radford, Purser, a Department of Chemistry major, is conducting research with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Amy Balija.

The application process for the position was extremely competitive, Balija said. Only 12 positions were granted among the 308 applicants.

Purser said she is excited to study at Michigan, which boasts an elite chemistry program. The U.S. News & World Report in 2014 ranked its chemistry department as one of the top 15 in the United States.

With Balija, Purser is preparing novel polymers to remove organic pollutants from aqueous environments. Her work entails synthesizing and analyzing the polymers using standard analytical techniques.

"The ultimate goal is to remove pollutants better than a Brita water filter, as well as being more environmentally-friendly," Purser explained.

Balija, who recommended Purser for the prestigious NSF position, said she has come a long way in her research skills.

"Initially, Lauren and I worked together to learn how to prepare and characterize the polymers as well as perform encapsulation studies," Balija said. "However, by the end of the first month, Lauren was preparing the polymers independently, demonstrating to me that she is a quick learner in the lab. Lauren also has taken on a leadership position within my group, helping the less-experienced students with techniques and demonstrating lab protocols.”

Purser admitted she was at first intimidated to pursue undergraduate research, but "I'm really glad I did."

"I've made a bunch of friends and learned so much from Professor Balija," she said.

At the University of Michigan, Purser will be working with Professor Banaszak Holl, whose interdisciplinary research focuses on biological materials and nanotechnology for gene and drug delivery. Purser will learn advanced laboratory techniques from scientists with various chemistry and engineering backgrounds.

"I know I would have never gotten this opportunity without my undergraduate research experience at Radford," Purser said. "It has really paid off."

When Purser returns to Radford for the fall semester, she'll be jumping right back into her polymer research. She and other Radford University chemistry students will present at the American Chemical Society Meeting and Exposition in Washington D.C. on Aug. 20-24.

Apr 10, 2017
Mary Hardbarger
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